Despite the potential benefits of a low-carb diet, this type of diet won’t suit everyone. Low-carb diets such as the Keto Diet and the Mediterranean Diet are very popular right now, but is following a low-carb meal plan the healthiest choice for everyone?
Everyone is different, and everyone has different needs when it comes to carb intake. Some people’s bodies react differently to carbohydrates than others do.
There are those who are genetically more sensitive to carbohydrates and those who function well on a low-carb diet, and others who don’t function well on a low-carb diet. For a variety of reasons, there are many people out there that are well-suited to follow a diet low in carbohydrates in order to keep their bodies the healthiest they can be.
Those who are carb sensitive, or experience insulin sensitivity, will especially benefit from a low-carb diet. Your genetic makeup will contribute greatly to how sensitive you are to carbohydrates, and you can learn more about your body’s genetic composition by taking a DNA test from CircleDNA, which includes DNA insights into what types of foods you should eat. Learning more about your unique genetic makeup can help you make informed decisions about what kind of diet, whether it be low-carb or otherwise, would be most suitable for you.
Regardless of whether or not you are carb-sensitive, we now know that too many ‘bad’ carbs, can contribute to a host of health problems including obesity, heart disease and even cognitive impairment and brain fog. Couple a high-carb diet with a sedentary lifestyle and your risk of developing long-term health problems increases greatly.
Not All Carbohydrates are ‘Bad’ Carbs
Not all carbs are bad. To find out more about which complex carbohydrates are the healthiest and which simple carbohydrates aren’t bad for you, check out this overview of the different types of carbohydrates.
However, if you are in fact carb-sensitive or insulin sensitive and continue to eat a diet high in carbs, you run the risk of developing type II diabetes mellitus, which can be devastating to your health if left untreated or isn’t maintained.
So, with that in mind, it might be a good idea to consider whether or not a low-carb diet might be right for you.
What is Carb Sensitivity?
Carb sensitivity is a term that is synonymous with insulin sensitivity. Insulin is a hormone that is secreted by the pancreas following meal times to control your blood sugar levels.
After we eat, especially if we eat a carb-heavy meal, our blood sugar levels spike. This spike in blood sugar is what triggers the pancreas to release insulin. The more glucose (sugar) there is in our bloodstream, the more insulin our pancreas will release.
In healthy individuals who are not overly carb-sensitive, a normal reaction occurs. Insulin binds to receptors that each and every one of our cells has, leaving our bloodstream and, thus, lowering our blood sugar back to a normal level. After the glucose has left our bloodstream and entered our cells, it is either used right away as a form of energy, is stored for future use in the form of glycogen, or is turned into fat.
If, however, you are carb sensitive, blood sugar levels increase after eating and then stay high. The sugar in your bloodstream doesn’t enter your cells because your cells have stopped responding, or are responding less efficiently, to the insulin released by the pancreas, prompting it to produce even more insulin.
As this cycle continues, noticeable carb sensitivity develops. Over time, this can lead to the development of type II diabetes mellitus.
Is a Low-Carb Diet Best for Those with Diabetes?
People with diabetes are generally advised by their doctor to watch their carb intake. Dr. Emmanuel Asare, MD and CEO of MiraBurst explains, “Diabetes develops as insulin resistance increases. A high-carbohydrate diet can lower insulin resistance over time if lifestyle changes aren’t made. When your body is insulin-resistant, the sugar that’s already in your bloodstream doesn’t enter cells quickly enough, and the liver produces excessive sugar. This often leads to prediabetes and can develop into Type 2 diabetes if left undetected or unmanaged.”
Dr. Asare continues, “Eating foods high in certain simple carbohydrates can cause blood sugar spikes (hyperglycemia) in patients with diabetes. Ketoacidosis, a life-threatening insulin deficiency, is one of the most serious causes of unmanaged Type 2 diabetes symptoms.”
As Edward Wright, the nutritionist behind Cereal Secrets points out, “Many meals with complex carbohydrates are higher in fibre, vitamins, and minerals, and because they take longer to digest, they have a less immediate effect on blood sugar levels and cause it to rise more gradually. The glycemic index was created to describe how various carbohydrate-rich foods directly affect blood sugar levels. It is thought to be a more accurate approach to classify carbs, especially starchy foods. White bread is one example of a food with a high glycemic index that digests quickly and causes significant blood sugar changes.”
Wright continues, “Low glycemic index foods, such as whole oats, take longer to digest and cause a more gradual rise in blood sugar. Foods with a rating of 55 or less are considered low-glycemic, whereas those with a value of 70 to 100 are high-glycemic. Eating a lot of high-glycemic-index foods, which result in sharp rises in blood sugar, can raise the risk of type 2 diabetes, heart disease, obesity, and other conditions.”
Complex Carb Intolerance (CCI)
Complex carbohydrates are typically healthier choices when it comes to eating carbs, but some people are unable to digest them due to a lack of an enzyme called alpha-galactosidase, which is needed to break them down and digest them.
Alpha-galactosidase is produced by bacteria that live in our large intestine. If your microbiome is unbalanced, which can be genetic but also occurs as the result of stress, certain antibiotics, or continuing to eat food you are intolerant of, you may not have enough of the bacteria needed to make adequate amounts of alpha-galactosidase.
The bacteria in the colon ferment the undigested complex carbohydrates, typically causing bloating, gas and abdominal pain as a result.
Some food sources that trigger symptoms of complex carb intolerance include beans, legumes, grains, cereals, nuts, seeds and certain vegetables.
Limiting your carb intake can help, but considering the important role that complex carbs play in a healthy, balanced diet, you might wonder what to do if you’re in this situation. People who have a hard time digesting carbs can consider using products like Beano, which contains alpha-galactosidase, to aid in digestion and help alleviate symptoms of the food sensitivity.
Signs a Low-Carb Diet Might be Right for You
There are a few signs to watch for if you suspect that you have a higher carb sensitivity and would benefit from a low-carb diet. These signs of carb sensitivity include:
- A frequent and intense craving for sweets and/or starches such as bread, pasta, and pastries.
- Feeling sleepy or drowsy after consuming a meal high in carbs.
- Craving sweet or carb-heavy foods first thing in the morning. Think sugary cereals, toast with jam, bagels etc.
- Having difficulty restraining yourself from overeating when carb-heavy foods are present.
- Gaining weight in the belly area and noticing excess belly fat.
If you suspect that you may have a sensitivity to carbs, talk to your doctor. He may order a HA1c test, which accurately measures your blood sugar levels. From there, you and your doctor can discuss whether or not a low-carb diet is in your best interest. A CircleDNA test can also offer you some insight about a potential genetic carb sensitivity.
Tips for Following a Low-Carb Diet
It’s not easy to follow a low-carb diet, and it requires a lot of planning and self-control. Carbs can be an especially challenging nutrient to limit, because our bodies are programmed to derive their energy from carbohydrates. Nevertheless, if you need to limit your carb intake to improve your health, there are some steps you can take to make the transition to a low-carb diet a little easier.
For starters, we’ve seen that complex carbohydrates are easier on your body than most simple carbs, so if you are going to consume carbohydrates, try to limit them to foods such as sweet potatoes, beans, whole grains and foods that are minimally processed.
Meal planning and prepping can help significantly if you find yourself in a pattern of binge eating, or eating carbs because no other foods have been prepared ahead of time. Having easily accessible low-carb snacks on hand reduces the likelihood of reaching for high-carb snacks like chips, bagels, bread, and baked goods. When you plan out your meals, focus on making dishes that are higher in healthy fats and protein, such as a chicken, spinach and avocado salad.
Finally, make sure to drink plenty of water and eat soluble and insoluble fibre from sources like flax seeds and chia seeds, nuts and leafy greens to promote healthy digestion.